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by Dan Oswald | BLR


In a recent conversation with an organizational psychologist, I was asked, “What are the top three things you look for in the members of your management team?” That’s a big and important question.

Yet I was able to answer it quickly and easily: “Trustworthiness, compatibility, and talent.” The next sentence I uttered might surprise you; it surprised me. Without really thinking, I followed up my four-word sentence about what I look for in the people who make up my management team with these three words: “In that order.”

And I stand by my answer. After the meeting concluded, I thought a lot about what the psychologist had asked and even more about my answer. And the more I considered it, the more certain I was that my answer was accurate. Trustworthiness, compatibility, and talent are the three things I consider most important in the people on my team. I’m not saying they’re the only answers or even the right answers. They’re just the right answers for me.


If you’ve read much of what I write about leadership, you know trust is a common theme. I’ve been on enough teams to know that trust is a critical element of success—in fact, I think it’s the most important. I don’t believe a team can function properly without it.

Team members must believe that their teammates can and will do their job so the team will succeed. They must trust that their teammates will put the team’s interest and success above their own. They must trust that their teammates will join with them to tackle even the most difficult circumstances. Sure, like everything else, trust is easy when things are good. But when the going gets difficult, do the members of your team trust one another? So trustworthiness tops my list. If people aren’t worthy of their teammates’ trust, then they don’t have a place on the team.


The second item on my list is compatibility. I believe you must like and respect the people with whom you work. I hear people say they don’t care whether or not they like their coworkers, but I don’t buy it. Life’s too short to spend it with people you don’t like.

If you work a regular 40-hour workweek for 52 weeks a year, you’ll spend more than 2,000 hours with your coworkers. Most of us spend as much time with our coworkers as we spend with our families. Do you really want to spend that time with people you don’t like? I don’t. And more important, a team in which the members don’t like one another is much less likely to succeed. They call this “team chemistry.” It’s hard to define, but when you have it, you know it. There’s a certain amount of momentum that comes from a team with chemistry that you don’t find in a team without it. Compatibility is critical for a team to succeed.


Third on my list is talent. Some might take exception with talent falling into third place, but I stand by my answer. You see, I don’t care if you’re the most talented person for any specific role—if you aren’t trustworthy or compatible with the other members of the team, you aren’t going to help the team. Period. Does that mean talent isn’t important? Of course not. But I want the most talented person I can find who is also trustworthy and fits well with my team.

I’ve had people who are incredibly bright, experienced, and talented but fail because they don’t fit with the team. Either their teammates didn’t trust them or they weren’t compatible with the team. It’s like a body that rejects an organ. The team will reject that person—regardless of his or her abilities—if the person doesn’t meet the other two criteria. So is talent important? Yes, incredibly so. It’s just not the most important.

If you consider this short list, you’ll see just how hard it is to find the right people for your team. You don’t need to find only trustworthy people. You need trustworthy people who are compatible with the other members of your team—and are the most talented you can find while still possessing the traits necessary to fulfill the first two criteria. You’re looking to hit the trifecta. Ask any gambler just how hard that is.